Mr. Gibbs and me

As an 11-year-old on a frozen lake in Minneapolis, my neighborhood octogenarian Mr. Gibbs shouted at me, “WHAT? Do ya think I’m a damn fool?!”

After having offered to share my ice hole with him, he trudged along another hundred yards with his 80-pound mechanical auger dragging on the ice behind him and his pole over his back, lure caught in the fur of his coat.

Shuffling his feet across the ice in snow boots that looked three sizes too big and a huge wool jacket with beaver skin lapels, he continued muttering to himself something about how he wasn’t born yesterday and how I was “Tryin’ to rob him blind. Idiot.”

For youngins in Minnesota, ice fishing is kind of like the Easy-Bake oven. It seems like it will be SO FUN. But it’s fun for like 10 minutes, and then you end up waiting around, freezing in your Timberlands for hours and hours … and nothing happens. Ever.

As an eager pre-teen, I was much too young for the auger with the engine on it. I had to use the auger equivalent to an aluminum eggbeater. After hand-drilling a hole into the eight-inch ice with this mechanical toothpick, I was so sweaty that I had to take off my jacket, and then quickly put it back on again after the sweat froze to my body.

When I finally did catch a two-inch fish on occasion, it made my day like only a two-inch cupcake from the Easy Bake might. Thankfully, frying up a sunfish post-catch takes much less time than waiting for that ridiculously tiny light bulb to heat up watery brownie batter.

When you are using the Easy Bake, though, there is little chance of running into a crotchety old man. I guess that was what added the extra spice to the trip — a chance of being screamed at incredulously for being nice.

After the first incident with Gibbs — after I (ahem) ran home crying — my dad decided that Mr. Gibbs needed a “talking to.” This only increased the problem. Despite my frenzied pleas to contrary, dad trudged out across our barren lake, leaned over and opened his mouth.

Todd Hendrickson was perhaps one of the most persuasive dads ever. The guy made a living selling construction helmets to housewives. Well, actually, he was an investment banker — but his Rolodex was huge with all-caps annotations like “MENTION SON BOBBY SOCCER PLAYER” and “WIFE – BETTY.” He was a folksy guy from eastern North Dakota, and by golly you either loved him or you hated him.

Apparently the old man hated him.

Judging by Gibbs’ frenetic hand gestures — emphatically pointing at his fishing pole and fishing hole — and repeated insults, he was not pleased.

My dad trudged back reduced to a shell of a man, looking as if he had just lost a million-dollar account.

“Just leave Mr. Gibbs be. He isn’t happy sharing this lake. With anyone. Just kill him with kindness, I guess. Don’t take him seriously,” my dad said.

So for the rest of my time ice fishing on Lake Minnetonka I always asked Mr. Gibbs to fish with me, and he always denied me with colorful language. Though I doubt my father meant to instruct me to literally kill Mr. Gibbs with kindness, he died two days after one of our encounters on the lake. Whoops.

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